Joe Bell

Former Daily Pilot columnist Joe Bell died Thanksgiving night at the age of 92.

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Joseph Bell, a longtime Newport Beach resident known for his extensive publishing record as a freelance writer, journalism educator, author and Daily Pilot columnist died on Thanksgiving, members of his family said. He was 92.

Bell died Thursday evening after a long battle with Parkinson's disease, which had been progressing rapidly during the past eight months, eventually forcing him into hospice care in early August.

"He died very peacefully at home, and his timing couldn't have been more perfect," said Sherry Angel, his wife. "I believe his timing was a message to all of us about his gratitude for a long, good life and all the love that surrounded him throughout his life."

Bell was born in Bluffton, Ind., on July 4, 1921, and raised in Fort Wayne. He enlisted in the Naval Air Corps in 1942, when he was a junior at the University of Missouri. He served as a Navy officer and pilot for more than three years, spending some of that time in the South Pacific during World War II. He returned to Missouri after the war and earned a journalism degree in 1946.

For more than 40 years, Bell wrote for newspapers and magazines, such as the Saturday Evening Post, Harper's, Look, Reader's Digest, Good Housekeeping, McCall's, Family Circle, Saturday Review, the New York Times, The National Observer, Christian Science Monitor and the Los Angeles Times.

He also wrote six nonfiction books, including the first book on the U.S. manned space program, "Seven Into Space," based on interviews with all of the Mercury astronauts.

While freelancing, Bell taught nonfiction writing at UC Irvine for 21 years. William Lobdell, former Daily Pilot editor, enrolled in Bell's beginning news writing class and kept in touch with him after graduating. It was Bell's passion for journalism that motivated Lobdell to become a reporter.

"I only had one journalism teacher and that was enough," said Lobdell, who is now the communications director for Costa Mesa. "Joe was enough. He was tough, fair and he loved a good story. In addition to being a great teacher, he was an even better journalist."

Angel, 58, also met Bell while he was teaching at UCI. After Angel took his news writing class, the pair began dating and eventually married in 1985.

"The thing that was most unusual about Joe was the way he listened," she said. "That's what made him such a great interviewer. In his personal life he did the same thing. He really listened to people and made them comfortable. He got people talking that way."

Bell spent the last 10 years of his career writing "The Bell Curve," a weekly column for the Daily Pilot in which he wrote from a liberal perspective in a conservative-leaning coverage area.

"I think it's safe to say he was one of the best community columnists in Orange County," Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis said. "He was entertaining. He was thought-provoking. He was a liberal in a conservative community, but he was loved by Democrats and Republicans alike.

"And I think that's because he cared so deeply about the subjects he was writing about. He put his heart before ideology, and I think he steered the daily conversation away from anger and toward solutions. I'll always miss his voice."

Bell was married to the late Janet Hartman of Fort Wayne for 40 years, and they had three children before divorcing. He is survived by his second wife, Angel; his three children with Janet — David Bell, Patricia Bell and Debby Bell; a stepson, Erik Patterson; three grandchildren, Trevor Simpson, Trent Simpson and Elizabeth Bell; and one great-grandchild, Nayla Simpson.

A private burial service will take place in Decatur, Ind., and a memorial service will be held locally at a date to be determined. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Donald A. Strauss Scholarship Foundation, 4931 Birch St., Suite 2, Newport Beach, CA 92660.